Living the social teaching of the church means praying

Recently, I heard the story from a friend who had been having some trouble with his cell phone carrier. He went to the store to get it fixed and found only one employee, a young lady, behind the counter serving a refugee family, another customer clearly irate, and some random fellow eating Taco Bell. Having a sense this would take a while, my friend left and came back hours later only to find the same one employee, the same refugee family, and someone else being served.

The young lady was apologetic as he entered the second time. “I’m sorry sir. I’ll be with you in just a moment.” He noticed the that she was clearly stressed. When his turn came up, she apologized again. My friend noted just how stressed she was, and then said, “I’m going to pray for you. I’m going to pray a prayer for workers for you.”

Her whole demeanor changed, he told me. Her shoulders relaxed. She shifted slightly in her stance. She was more at ease in that moment. The simple offer to pray let her know that he noticed her, that he cared for her, and that he would do something so that her life would be better.

The story reminded me of my own experience years ago while working on the sainthood cause for Servant of God Father Flanagan. I had traveled to Canada, and when I arrived at customs, the agent asked me the reason for my visit. “Business,” I told him. “What kind of business?” he asked. Cherishing my privacy, I said only that I worked for the Catholic Church. He pressed further, “So what work are you doing here?” I hesitated to say, but truthfully answered that “I’m investigating an alleged miracle.” It was an awkward sentence, and it came out awkwardly.

I supposed I expected a roll of the eyes or a scrunch of the face or a cringe of some sort, but none of that happened. Like the young lady, his shoulders relaxed slightly. He then shared with me that he had gotten divorced recently and that his wife, who lived in Winnipeg with his sons, wanted help paying for hockey. He wanted to support them, and wanted to be closer to his sons. He started to bare his heart, which was in clear pain. “I’ll pray for you,” I said. And I did.

I don’t know if he was a religious man or if the young lady was either. But both stories remind me of an important point regarding the social teaching of the church. We often hear about the need to care for the physical goods of our neighbor, particularly through institutional changes and/or public policy. But these stories remind us that we are not just material beings. Many of our neighbors are in spiritual pain and so are open to expressions of faith.

The Orthodox theologian Alexander Schmemann wrote once that secularism is the effort to deny that the human person is a “worshipping being.” Our culture has convinced us somehow that worship ought to be private and is a sign of weakness, when the truth is that to worship God and so to pray is to be more ourselves. When we pray for those who do not or cannot pray for themselves, we share our spiritual wealth.

So, to live the social teaching of the church means to pray and to offer prayer and to worship God well. In fact, to worship God is to fulfill part of the virtue of justice. Pray, then, in generosity and worship faithfully and openly so as to bring about an authentic social justice.

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